May 23, 2016 (BOR/JUBA) – Thousands of Ethiopian troops who have crossed into South Sudan have entered Pibor county of the newly created Buma state in search of abducted children from the Ethiopian Nuer community by the South Sudan’s Murle ethnic group.
A top Ethiopian diplomat, Ambassador Fesseha Shawel Gebre, has revealed that the troops will continue to pursue the Murle criminals until all the children abducted have been recovered and returned to their parents back in Ethiopia.
Last month, thousands of armed members of the Murle ethnic group crossed into Ethiopia and simultaneously attacked 13 villages belong to the Nuer community in Ethiopia, killing at least 200 people, abducting over 100 kids and took away also with over 2,000 heads of cattle.
Ethiopia responded by deploying troops to rescue the children, threatening to attack suspected targets within South Sudan should the Murle community not hand over all the kids.
Ambassador Gebre said the deployment of the Ethiopian troops inside South Sudan has been approved by the South Sudanese government, stressing that the move was important in order not to strain relations between the two neighbouring countries.
He said no order has been issued by the Ethiopian government to begin the attack as two governors of Gambella region in Ethiopia, Gatluak Tut Khot, and governor of Boma state in South Sudan, Baba Bedan, have been peacefully trying to recover the children.
“The Ethiopian troops are in the soil of South Sudan with the permission of the government of South Sudan to facilitate work for the governors on the two sides," Ambassador Gebre told a local newspaper on Monday in Juba.
He said the Ethiopian troops may shoulder the operations as South Sudanese troops were not capable for the joint operations given the difficulty of the terrain in Boma state.
"That area is very remote and access is difficult including crossing the rivers. It is the army of Ethiopia that is best placed and equipped with the infrastructure to rescue the children,” he said.
56 children have been rescued and returned to Ethiopia so far. That is about half of the number of people abducted following the raid.
But Ambassador Gebre said the raiders should be brought to books. He said Ethiopia expected "cooperation from Juba" to avoid the cross border military incursion.
PUNISH THE CRIMINALS
Meanwhile, Boma state administration announced a plan to persecute the raiders, and child abductors belonging to the Murle ethnic group, saying at least 50 criminals have been identified and awaiting prosecution.
Boma state governor, Baba Medan, made the remarks after he visited the Ethiopian region of Gambella to normalize security tensions between his state and Gambella region.
“On the 15th of April, a group of criminals from my state went and attacked people of Gambella. According to the reports, over 100 children were abducted and 2,000 cattle stolen,” he said.
“We, the government of South Sudan and government of Boma state are committed to bring these children. The directive from the president [Salva Kiir] was very clear that we have to work out this issue of children so that we hand them over to their parents,” he said.
Governor Bedan revealed that he had asked the governor of Gambella region, Gatluak Tut Khot, to give him time to recover all the abducted kids.
“I went to meet the President of Gambella region to give us another time for us to collect cattle and the remaining children. I hope very soon, we will be able to collect and hand over these children to their government,” he said.
Although no arrest has been made, possible majors of bringing them to justice would be drafted after Ethiopian children and cattle have all been returned.
“These criminals made a mistake to cross the border and steal cattle and children from Ethiopia. It is our mistake; we will ask the criminal to pay these numbers of cattle according to the report. Even if the number of cattle is 1,000 and they are claiming for 2,000 heads of cattle, we have to collect two 2,000 from these criminals,” lamented the governor.
The Ethiopian troops had again entered Raat, seeking approval from Boma state to allow them to pass through to Lamurnyang state, pursuing the cattle.
According to Medan, he denied to grant passage of Ethiopian troops to former Eastern Equartoria state, particularly the current Namurnyang state in an attempt to pursue their stolen heads of cattle.
However, the Ethiopian troops may act unilaterally should there be no cooperation or success in recovering all the human and animals raided from their country.